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Free Range Parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv Need to Stop Fighting and Put Kids' Safety First

04/15/2015 11:34 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, the notorious "free range" parents, need to stop battling Child Protective Services and the "parenting police state" for now and start supervising their two young children so they don't lose them.

When Danielle and Alexander Meitiv's two children, Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6, were picked up by police for the second time walking home alone from a park, then turned over to Child Protective Services, the Maryland couple should have vowed that this would never happen again.

Free Range Parents -- Kids' Safety Should Come First

Danielle and Alexander's children were held by authorities without communication with their parents for five and a half hours on April 12 after their mom and dad allowed them to walk to a park less than a mile away from the family's home.

The Meitivs went into a panic when their children didn't return home from the park at an agreed-to 6-6:30 p.m. at night. They say that they weren't notified until around 8:00 p.m. that the police had their children in custody. And they weren't allowed to retrieve their children from Child Protective Services until 10:30 that night.

There's no excuse for the Maryland law enforcement not to notify the Meitivs that the police had their kids. That's ridiculous and an abuse of power. The Meitivs have every right to be outraged by this.

However, the Meitivs and their innocent children have now found themselves in the midst of a war with "authorities," and the only victims are going to be little Rafi and Dvora.

Danielle and Alexander are battling for their rights as "free range" parents but it's not worth the toll of terror this is now placing on their children.

For those who haven't heard of "free range parenting" -- I only found out about the concept recently -- it's a parenting movement that seeks to give children the skills to be self-reliant. The Free Range kids and Parents Bill of Rights posted on the Free-Range website created by Lenore Skenazy states that "children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested." Lenore has also written a book about how to raise "Free Range Kids" and had her own reality show, World's Worst Mom, on the Discovery Life Channel until 2012.

"Free Range Parenting": Safe And Smart?

The Meitivs are ardent "free range" parents, but their Maryland community neighbors are not fans of their parenting approach. The family was visited by Montgomery County Child Protective Services in November 2014 by two CPS social workers. Danielle Meitiv told Psychology Today that a neighbor had called the CPS hotline reporting that their children were at the park unattended.

Then, on December 20, 2014, another concerned neighbor notified the police when they saw the children walking home alone from the park on a Saturday afternoon. The children were picked up by the police and driven home, where there was "a tense exchange" with Alexander Meitiv, and little Rafi phoned his mom, who was out, to tell her that he thought Daddy was going to get arrested.

Later, a Child Protective Services social worker threatened to take the children immediately unless Alexander promised to supervise the children at all times, Danielle told Psychology Today.

A two-month investigation launched after that incident, by CPS, found the Meitivs "responsible for unsubstantiated child" neglect. Then, while the Meitivs were gearing up to fight this ruling, their children were picked up again at the park.

Now their children are back at home after the latest incident in which their parents signed another "safety plan" for CPS, again promising not to leave them unattended.

Of course, I totally get why the Meitivs are furious with the interference of police and CPS into what they believe is the right parenting for their children.

They are convinced that they aren't putting their children at risk of being abducted or being hit by cars when they cross streets alone. Crime is at a "50 year low" and the risk of child abduction by strangers is "very low", according to the Free Range Kids website.

Free Range Parents Danielle & Alexander Meitiv: Fighting For Their Principles

Danielle believes that parents shouldn't hover over their kids. "It makes me so sad to see how adults underestimate and condemn children's abilities to handle responsibility," she said to Psychology Today.

However, other local parents ARE worried about the Meitiv children's safety, specifically about intersections with three or four lanes of traffic in each direction, which they must cross to get to that park. "This is not just a walk home from a neighborhood park," a neighbor emailed KJ Dell'Antonia, who writes the Motherlode blog on nytimes.com. Two of the intersections "have recently been audited for safety improvements," as Dell'Antonia reports in the article.

The huge question for the Meitivs is, are they going to fight for their "free range" principles against Maryland's Child Protective Services, and risk losing their children, or are they going to "supervise" their children more than they believe is necessary, and hold their fight until their children are older?

I'm sure it's maddening to the Meitivs, who are highly educated, thoughtful professionals -- he's a theoretical physicist at the National Institute of Health and she is a freelance climate change science consultant -- and believe they are good parents.

On the other hand, their battle against the authorities has now got to have become terrifying for their two young children. Remember, these kids were picked up and then held in a police car without being allowed to contact their parents, then were held another three hours, all without contact, by Child Protective Services before being reunited with their mom and dad, April 12. That must have been a harrowing experience for them.

No child should be unnecessarily put through this ordeal. And this is after they already thought that their father would be arrested when CPS came to their home. They have also been pulled out of class at school and interviewed by CPS investigators.

Poor Rafi and Dvora. Talk about being given responsibility at a young age. Their parents have unintentionally ended up giving them far, far too much responsibility, especially Rafi. At 10, he has been asked to be the protective parent to his younger sister in all these highly stressful situations.

Danielle Meitiv's Facebook page is full of outraged posts about what has happened. There are lots of comments from "free range" supporters, and she's posted many articles supporting free range parenting. She is clearly on a mission, but it's a political mission championing their rights to "free range parent."

Free Range Parenting Sacrifices Safety For 'Responsibility'

I'm not saying that free range parents don't make good points about typical overprotective parenting today. I'm one of those overprotective parents, who is raising four kids. But right now, I believe it's time for the Meitivs to do one thing and one thing only: put the safety and security of their own two young children first.

That means give up the war for now. Do NOT, under any more circumstances, risk having your two precious children removed from your care. Your children must be so afraid that they will be taken away from you. They should not have to live with that fear.

Being able to walk to the park unsupervised is not worth what could happen at this point.

No, it's not fair. CPS should be concerned with parents who truly are neglectful or abusive. But that doesn't matter. Only your children feeling safe and secure should matter now. So don't give the neighbors, police or CPS any more reasons to interfere with your family.

When your children are too old to need "supervision" on the neighborhood streets, then pick up your battle for other "free range" parents. Usually a change in attitude takes a long time -- it doesn't happen overnight. But until that time, stand down from the free range parenting battlefield and keep your family together.

-- Bonnie Fuller